Myths about employee engagement – numbers 1 to 3

“Slipshod assistance, foolish inattention, dowdy indifference, and half-hearted work seem to be the rule; and no man succeeds, unless by hook or crook or threat he forces or bribes other men to assist him.” ~ Elbert Hubbard, A Message to Garcia, 1899.

In many businesses today, managers are still living by this philosophy, or something close to it.

Much has been written about employee engagement and little changes.

Headlines shout that only 30% of employees are engaged and then try to connect that number to the economy, terrorism, climate change, Millennials, or whatever the fear of the moment is.

Except that engagement, as measured by Gallup, has held very steady between 26% and 30% since they started measuring it in 2000 (Gallup). Lots of concern and money thrown at the issue and there’s been very little change over the years.

Maybe part of the problem is all the myth and hype that’s built up around it. In our experience, there are six prevalent engagement myths I routinely come across although there are surely more. In part 1 of this blog, we cover the first three myths.

Myth 1:

Everyone knows the definition of engagement. There seems to be as many definitions of engagement as people discussing it and trying to find the best one is a challenge. For example, there is a 2006 SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) publication titled “Employee Engagement and Commitment” that includes an entire page of definitions from 10 different companies. Every vendor seems to use a different definition and the average person usually thinks of engagement as synonymous with happiness, fulfillment, or job satisfaction. Some definitions are very academic, but I like to keep it simple.

For me, the most useful definitions focus on a person’s discretionary effort and my own personal definition of engagement is “wanting to make a difference and being recognised for that commitment”. It lacks nuance and precision but it’s simple and immediately understandable.

Myth 2:

Engagement is about making everyone happy. Although I’m all for everyone being happy, there seems to be, at best, a loose connection between engagement and happiness. I suspect engaged people tend to be happier on the whole because they feel like their efforts matter, but I’m very skeptical of the suggestion that happiness creates engagement. People who give really care about doing their jobs well are often irritated with anything that prevents them from giving their best. They’re frustrated because they care and that’s very different than being happily indifferent.

Myth 3:

The Work Ethic is dead. There are a lot of fingers being pointed at the Millennial generation and a lot of talk about how different they are. It’s easy to talk about how things were when we were young and lament the death of the old fashioned work ethic. Consider the possibility that the “old fashioned” work ethic we romanticise and get all misty-eyed nostalgic over never existed. For a bit of perspective, read “A Message to Garcia”, written in 1899 to see what the author thought of the work ethic back then (spoiler: it was pretty bad). Or just think about it this way: if we have a five generation workforce and 70% of the workforce is disengaged and that holds steady over time since before Gen Y was a strong presence in the workforce, it can’t be about generation can it?

At Brownie Points we are trying to help our clients dispel these myths, by helping business managers move from this Dickensian way of thinking.

We believe that recognising performance and giving positive feedback really makes a difference, and we can make it work for you.

Brownie Points is working with thought leading organisations around the world to tailor employee feedback and recognition programs that have a positive impact on the bottom line.

With our growing network of national and international alliance partners we are able to help our clients deliver cost effective employee recognition programs for their business.

To learn how Brownie Points could make a difference in your business, call the team today on + 61 (3) 9909 7411 to discuss your plans, or for more information or to arrange a free demonstration email us at info@browniepoints.com.au